Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rainy Days and Mondays...

Two quick tips today.

Tip one: If you ever have to rethread your shift cable through the barrel adjuster screw at the der, say you had to put a new one on the bike, the screw that is, but want to reuse your old cable and the cable has started to unravel after you removed the crimp end don't try to force it through the screw. You'll just cause the cable to fray even more and end up needing to replace the whole cable most likely. Instead, take a small bit of plumber's teflon tape, available at any lumber yard, and give a quick twist around the end of the cable. You can then easily slip the cable through the new adjuster screw with the tape acting to both bind the cable to itself as well as lube the passage through that tiny little hole.

Tip two: If you want to mount your GPS to your bike, but don't want to pay for the GPS mounting kit from the manufacturer, zip ties are your friends, as shown below.

Of course, this depends on your model of GPS, but most come with some sort of clip system to attach the gizmo to yourself. Use that to mount to the bike. With my Garmin Colorado, I removed the carabiner clip from the plastic doo-hicky that attaches to the back of the unit. I then zip tied the doo-hicky to the stem and handlebars with just a bit of old tube between plastic and stem to keep it nice and snug and quiet. Bam - cheapskate's GPS mount.

And here's a random picture of the bus floor.

Eventually I will get around to discussing tools every commuter should have, as well as my preferred clothing for commuting as I prepare for this:
*Image by J Mabry, who happened to be walking into the building at the exact time that I arrived that moment. It was well below zero and he blames the temps on the picture being so out of focus. I, on the other hand, have no excuses.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm still standing...

Or riding, as the case may be. Took a bit of time off from the normal roller coaster and hung out around the house. Didn't do too much in the way of work around the house. Didn't do too much of anything. Just kind of hung out.

I did, however, get a couple of really great rides in. The first was with my son and one of his friends. Riding trails with 11 year olds is a hoot. It forces me to slow down and enjoy the scenery a bit more. It also makes me keep in mind that it takes time for someone to build trail skills and that it is a constant growth pattern. I could see my son riding better than he did the prior times we went out and I could see his friend riding more confidently by the end of the ride than at the beginning.

I think went riding the trails with my oldest daughter. Teenaged daughter. Who didn't want to be there for some reason. The ride would have been a complete bummer except that we finished it off with the sighting of a pair of sandhill cranes, which turned her around. Maybe it was seeing me giddy as a school girl when I saw them. I don't know. Birds fascinate me.

Yesterday I went out on the trails by my self and blasted out a quick 15 miles. I'd say that half or more of the trails in the Crevasse Moraine system are built for XC skiing. This means a number of steep up and down hills followed quite often by nice, sharp curves. There are some of those uphills that, to be quite frank, I don't know if I'll ever be able to make it up without walking the bike. They are that steep. Not like on a well built singletrack when things are switchbacked. But, I'm already noticing that a few I've had to walk in the past I'm able to ride now. So the legs must be adapting.

Today was back to the grind and the normal early bus. The driver is back in business - he had to spend a few days in the hospital with a case of gout. Hey, all I know is I'm glad to have the early bus back in the loop. Makes the morning a bit easier.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

These are just a few of my favorite things...

I'm a gear geek. I'll be the first to admit it. I love stuff. And there are certain things that I just can't seem to do without on my daily commute or when I get into the office.

1) iPod/Shure SE215 earbuds - I know. I know. Riding with earbuds in is verboten to so many folks. Sorry, but I have to do it. During the commute I listen to podcasts and during single track rides I listen to music. I'm a one bud in type of guy, and I do try to keep the volume low enough to not hamper my hearing too much. There are some legalities to wearing headphones while riding, but when you're riding every day, it is nice to not have to be too stuck with your own thoughts day after day.

2) Garmin Colorado GPS - Sadly, I use this mostly for the clock so that I can easily keep my eye on the time, since I am always pressed to meet someone else's schedule (bus, work, etc.). I have a watch - this is true. Ever try getting to a watch when it's 20 below zero and it is under 4 layers and the gauntlet of your big arse expedition gloves? Yeah - it's much easier have the GPS for that. And the speedometer is helpful as well when making calculation such as "do I have time to stop in the woods to take a leak?" or "should I stop and pick up a doughnut on the way to the office?" If you know the time, your approximate distance and your average rate of speed, well, you can figure out just about anything.

3) Beat up Fox Digit gloves (summer)/OR Versaliner or Mountain Hardware Liner gloves (Spring/Fall)/Black Diamond Guide Gloves (winter) - I like gloves. In the summer it seems a bit Fredish to wear gloves during the standard commute, but I do it regardless. Once upon a time I liked having hands that looked like they had been run over by a semi on a regular. Now, not so much. Actually, when it is really hot out, having the gloves helps me keep a better grip on the bars, which can't hurt, can it? And they make a nice soft and absorbent wiper of sweat. Function. In the spring, fall, and winter gloves are not a nice to have, but a must have. I'll spend a lot on gloves if I know that they'll keep my fingers toasty.

4) Shoes/Clipless peddles - Another nod to my Fredness. In the ice/snow free months I roll with my Egg Beaters and a pair of Perl Izumi shoes. I like being attached to the bike. It might be more efficient. It might result in better power transfer to the bike. Or it might serve as theft deterrent as the average bike thief doesn't have the shoes and Egg Beaters hurt to ride on without the proper shoes. Or maybe I'm just a Fred after all and in both senses of the term.

5) Helmet - Have to wear it on every ride. Had a close call once upon a time that resulted in a badly broken tooth and a couple of cracked ribs (or at least some deep bruising) that would have been much, much worse without the helmet. I wear a cheap one. Nothing fancy, but it fits my big nogging, so it works.

6) Former collegiate logo coffee thermos - Picked it up at a Pacific Northwest's university book store years ago. Still keeps my coffee warm for the commute even when it is 20 below.

7) Hibiscus tea and assorted snacks - Love me the hibiscus tea. Supposedly good for the heart. It has helped me reduce my caffeine intake, which is good. Snacks vary. Right now I'm on a dried fruit kick.

8) Sunglasses - Currently I'm wearing a pair by Native eyewear. They have interchangeable lenses so I can wear them in low light as well as bright light situations. That's nice, because in the winter it is really nice to have something covering my eyes. Frozen eyelashes are not fun.

Next time: Tools every cycle commuter should have - or how to screw up your bike big time without even trying.

A note to grief...

So today I was going to provide a pithy list of my favorite commuting gear and explain why I can't live without these items, how they make the commute a bit better, and all that non-sense.

However, things change. Instead, today I want to talk about transportation planning and schedules.

See, Alaska's lack of any kind of transportation planning makes it such that any minor disturbance in the traffic flowing out of Anchorage causes near gridlock.

Anchorage is likely quite unique in that there are only two roads that enter/exit the city. One from the north and one from the south. The southerly road won't get you too terribly far. The northern route can. So, two roads. Yet, the traffic on those roads during the drive time is quite heavy. Heavy to the point that even on a good day it is bumper to bumper and can become stop and go quite quickly.

So, let's think of someone who has high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and plaque buildup. The artery has only a set volume which it can handle even in the best of conditions and most of the time it handles the volume with little incident. However, constrict that artery even a little bit due to plaque build up or increase the pressure a bit and the whole works comes crashing to a dead stop. Yup, that's the exit route from Anchorage. An overweight, middle-aged man who's been eating fried foods his whole life.
The heart attack is imminent.  (Interesting side note: When looking for CC images for heart attack I learned there is a Queen tribute band, apparently composed of middle eastern men, called heart attack.)

So, when something happens on the road during drive time, it stops everything up even though there are three lanes of traffic. Such was the case last night. I hopped the 4:30 bus and as we made it to the highway, past the last traffic light of Anchorage, the standard and customary hauling of ass never occurred. Instead the bus stopped. And started. And stopped again. I was engrossed in a book, so didn't pay too much attention. Until we came to a complete standstill and I looked up to see that we were awash in a sea of stopped cars and not even to the Muldoon exit yet. Damn.

The thing is, I didn't have anything pressing going on at home. Didn't have to be anywhere. Had a good book and plenty of juice in my iPod. But after getting out the door at 5:20 AM, I just wanted to be done for the day, wanted to turn off. Wanted to see my wife and kids. Basically, I didn't want to continue to sit and sweat on a bus full of strangers. It was a glorious day out, but in the bus... well, if you've ever been on a bus when it's hot out, you know.

Eventually I make it home, 12 and a half hours later, or so, I'm home. A long day indeed.

But the commuting adventures don't end there. This morning I head out the door about 5:26 AM and start making my way to the bus stop, figuring that I'll get there after the bus has already arrived and I'll be able to just get my seat and load up the bike and all will be well with the world.

When I come down the hill and see the bus stop I don't see the big pink bus. "This is odd" I think to myself. It was 5:43. The bus is always there before I am. I'm not sure what time he normally gets there, but definitely before 5:43.

I pull up at the stop, pull my bag off the bike, and wait. I look at my watch at 5:50 and the bus isn't there. The bus is supposed to pull out at 5:55. Something's up. 5:55 comes and goes and no bus. Eventually the 6:00 AM bus arrives. No one at the bus company knows where the driver of the 5:55 bus is. He just didn't show up today.

The 6:00 AM bus is packed. As I was second in line, I was able to get a seat, but the last gentleman on board had to stand for the ride as every seat was taken.

And here's a question - Why is it that certain people who ride public conveyance of any sort, feel that they have to commander as much room around themselves as possible? The dude sitting next to me this AM sat the entire ride with his legs spread just as widely as he could, pushing me into the wheel well to the point where I couldn't move without bumping into him. Dude - give a guy a break. I don't have any hard and fast personal space issues, but I like to be able to at least shift my weight a bit without rubbing legs with some guy I've never met before.

And now for something completely unrelated - have a ball.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Here come the comedown

Ah Monday. Has there ever been anything to recommend this day? If you had a good weekend prior, it makes Monday all the more cruel. If you had a bad weekend prior, Monday just feels a continuation. Not a fan of Mondays.

But Mondays are nice in one regard - my legs generally feel quite fresh come Monday if I've not ridden during the weekend. And sadly I have to say that I've not been riding much on the weekends. The occasional run to the store, maybe, but things are just so busy that making time to get out on the bike takes a back seat.

Besides, it's good to take a breather from the bike from time to time to keep the enthusiasm up.

Sometimes Mondays are nice, though. Like when I have this great view from the office window:

Okay, that's not really today. Today imagine the same scene, but minus the clouds and so bright it hurts your eyes to look at it. 

Commuting-wise: the ride home on Friday night was interesting. The bus was full as there is reduced service on Fridays. No big deal. Everyone got a seat and no one was turned away. But there was a bit of an adventure.

The Valley Mover will drop folks off along the route at the highway exits. On Friday we dropped a gentleman off at Thunderbird falls. As we pulled away it felt to me that the bus was not quite right. There was a pronounced list to the vessel. Were we taking on water? Were the seas turning on us? Argh matey... nope. As we neared Palmer the driver pulled over and his report was a simple blowing air suspension bag. For a moment it appeared that we might, well, the other riders might, be stuck in the bus until a new bus could be dispatched to come pick them up. But, in the end the driver decided to push on slowly. All in all, we made it home maybe five minutes later than normal.

Can't beat that with a stick.

So, after the harrowing ride home on Friday, I decided to not ride the bike over the weekend. Okay, that's not entirely true. I just ended up not riding. The wife suggested that the boy and I go on Saturday, but after the work I did around the house chopping down scrub alder, my back was just not feeling it. Then on Sunday I spent a good part of the day scrubbing the back deck and again, my back just was not feeling up to a ride - particularly with the temps we were having in the upper 70's. Instead, I got the kayak out for a bit of paddling.

The paddle was nice and relaxing. Found where Cottonwood creek comes into Cottonwood Lake and I think I could paddle up it to Finger Lake quite easily. Finger Lake and Cottonwood Lake are part of a canoe trail in the valley and, so, the creek is used to connect the two lakes. I'm just not sure of the logistics of paddling against the current in anything bigger than my 13.5 foot kayak as the creek has some fairly sharp bends in it. I don't know that a 16 foot canoe would be able to make it past some of them. I'll definitely have to check it out a bit more in the days and few remaining weeks of summer to come.

The commute this morning was nice. Windy, though. I suppose, though, we are getting to the time of year when the wind will start blowing more and more so I best just get used to it.

I'm still dealing with mad hunger when I get to the office in the morning. Not sure what is up with that. So far this morning I've had an oatmeal bar, a granola bar, some dried mango, some dried pineapple, and I'm still just ravenous. I'm about to tuck into some amazing home-made yogurt my wife made over the weekend. But from there I don't know what else I'll eat. I feel like I shouldn't be eating so much or feeling so hungry in the mornings.

If I remember correctly, though, I did the same thing last summer about this time as well. I wonder if it has something to do with riding at a faster pace than I do in the winter? That doesn't seem quite right, though, as in the winter I'm pushing a lot more weight and have a much larger rolling resistance to overcome, yet I rarely feel deep-down hungry when I get to the office. I don't know. Just seems like I can't get enough to eat. And the things I crave are certainly not healthy foods. I'd much rather eat a greasy breakfast sandwich with bacon and sausage on it than oatmeal. I'd rather have some salty chips than dried fruit. I'd rather have a dozen donuts than yogurt. Granted, I'm not known for eating healthy, but to have cravings for this type of junk food is not entirely like me. Maybe there is something there, though. All of the foods I crave in the mornings are salty to an extent. Maybe my sodium levels are mucked up? Ah, best not to worry about it too much now.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The future freaks me ... out

Or maybe it's the past. I don't know.

I do know the following things:

1) Fishing is good. Well, in some places at some times it is. At other places it is an exercise in futility. Grocery shopping for the winter is just about done...

2) The bike shop in Palmer seems like a pretty okay decent place. The owner seems cool, they have a Wildfire Designs bike (The "original" snowbike) hanging on the wall. They had the parts I needed to get back rolling and they didn't try to sell me anything other than what I asked for.

3) Strange creaking noises on the bike are never a good sign. Never.

4) Friday morning buses are packed - four bikes and every seat full, except for that one between those two people who take up three seats, but that's another story. Two bikes out front on the rack and two in the bus. I like seeing that.

5) The prospect of a broken frame pisses me off. In fact Surly is a bit on my shit-list. Though I have to put some of the blame on REI, I think. It seems like I've spent an awful lot on the Pugsley in a year and three months just to keep it rolling, both in time and effort:
     A. Rear hub adjustment one - August 2012
     B. Rear hub adjustment two - Sept 2012
     C. Rear hub adjustment three - Sept 2012
     D. Rear hub replacement - Oct 2012
     E. Rear hub adjustment (self-performed) - May 2013
     F. Rear hub rebuild (self-performed) - July 18, 2013
     G. New shift cable - April or May 2013
     H. New cassette - Sept 2013 (maintenance, I know)
     I. New cassette - Feb 2013
     J. New cassette - July 18, 2013
     K. Bottom Bracket/Crankset - May 2013
    Now some of these items are indeed maintenance items. Such as the cassettes, though I think the one that was on the bike originally wore a bit faster than it should have. I also didn't include the four or five chains I've put on in the same amount of time. One for each new cassette and at least one that broke on me. These items are in no way Surly or REI issues. However, the hub issues and the bottom bracket/crankset issue seem to point to poor assembly/initial adjustment or just overall poor quality components.

So, as I'm riding to the bus last night I noticed a random creaking noise coming from the rear of the bike so when I get home, I pull the rear wheel off to check things out. The bearings are crunchy and just generally not feeling good. So I get the stuff I need from the bike shop in Palmer, good guys, and rebuild the hub. Same creaking. So on the one hand I'm glad that I got the creak because it allowed me to catch a hub issue before the hub completely self destructed. The jury is still out as to whether or not the hub with last. There is some gouging on the upper part of the race, as if some of the bearings were jumping out of the race, but I'll wait and see what happens on that.

The bigger issue is the potential of a cracked frame. There's an interesting thread over at MBTR about this issue. Seems like a lot of folks have had this issue. I hope, really really hope that I'm just seeing things and that I don't have cracks forming. It's in warranty and all, but it's still a pain all the way around if it is cracking and I have to get a replacement.

In other news - random people still come up and squeeze my tires and the Endomorph tire is weak. I've almost balded mine out with only about 1000 miles on it. Granted, it is my pavement tire, but still... Actually, it makes a pretty nice slick commuter tire this way.

Ahhh, but who cares now? It's almost the weekend and that's really all that matters, right? Maybe I'll even get a ride or two in on the trails.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fushing Freds...

I'm fat and I'm proud. Or something like that.

I'm also a one bike to rule them all type of guy. Well, let me rephrase that. I'm a one bike to rule them all type of guy because I don't have the disposible income necessary to own N+1 bikes and I'm married to a wonderful and level-headed woman who helps me keep my consumeristic desired mostly in check. If it weren't for her I'd probably have a different bike for each day of the week because I like bikes. I like they way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell...

So, being a one bike type of guy, I ride the same bike for trail riding, daily commuting, and anything else I want to do by bike. As the pictures show, my bike has a bit of a girth problem. I ride fat because given the state of the state of Alaska for most of the year, it makes the most sense to have the fat tires for dealing with snow and mud and sand. And it's just damned fun to roll on something that is essentially a big-boy's Tonka truck. I'm okay with being obese.

But what I can't quite get my head around is the looks I get while out riding. Or maybe I can. I'm sure it's the same look I'd give to someone driving a monster truck on the road.

Fat bikes, as they are colloquially known, do seem to inhabit the same realm as the monster truck - highly specialized and inefficient for anything beyond the intended purpose. To many riders, particularly roadies, riding something with a 4 inch wide tire on pavement probably seems like something only a sadist would attempt.

And while it is definitely more challenging to get up to and keep speed with the fat bike, I ride it that way because I love it and, I would conjecture, it is a better workout than riding a lighter bike. See, I could switch to a slightly skinnier tire for the summer. I could build up a new set of 29r wheels and roll on a 2.1 inch tire. I could, but I simply love being fat. It makes me smile. So what's wrong with that?

Besides, it's fun in the early stretches of spring to be able to blow the doors off of roadies who are just coming out of hibernation. Only happens for a week or so, but the look on their faces when a fattie rolls by at 24 mph is just priceless.

On the commuting front, nothing new to report. The bus still runs and I still ride it. Things do seem to be falling out of my panniers lately, though. Yesterday it was my lock and my keys and my Kindle - all of which were promptly picked up and returned to stowage. Today I think I lost the bungie cord I use to strap the bike down in the bus.

One of the cool things about riding the bus is having time to read each morning and afternoon. I just finished up an interesting novel - Zazen by Vanessa Veselka. At first I though the novel felt like a second-rate Don Delillo rip-off. Maybe of White Noise or Cosmopolis. But  as I started getting deeper into the book I realized that while there were clearly influences there, the writing is much different than Delillo's and the in the end I was fairly impressed with the work. I'd recommend giving it a read.

Now I am reading The Listeners by Leni Zumas. I'm not terribly far along into this one, but so far I'm enjoying it. I find myself drawn to literature that is a bit odd-ball. I like it when a book can throw me off by the insertion of a random non sequitur (Isn't random somewhat the definition of non sequitur?)

I think maybe that I am drawn to anything that shows lineage back to Delillo. I like the self-awareness and the fearlessness that seems present in these types of works, as if the author can just say whatever he or she wants regardless of how it fits the "plot." The problem is that an unskilled writer can lay that on a bit too thick and then destroy any willing suspension of disbelief on the reader's part. It's a fine line and when it works, it works well.

In music news - check out Palms. Good stuff. Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Always running out of time

So, in a fit of pique I decided to delete all my previous posts. I do this from time to time. Decide that blogging is just a bit too darned egotistical, too 2002, too personal yet impersonal.

I've been thinking about what made me want to create a blog to begin with and after examining it, I'm back. See, the blog, while focused on me and my particular commuting challenges, which will be changing and morphing as work and life demands demand, the goal or purpose is to inform others about alternatives to the one person/one car paradigm and show how using alternate forms of transportation can fit into the demands of most any life. I also hope to give folks some insight on gear that works in Alaska - and if something works here, it'll work most anywhere - as well as tips to make the daily grind of commuting just a bit better. Maybe more importantly, this is my place to record what works and doesn't work for my commute and situation - a way to have a record I can go back to - strangely each change of season means I have to relearn a bit of what worked and didn't work the previous one. My memory must be shot.

I'll not post about every commute. That's an easy way to quickly burn out as the author or as a reader. The blog will obviously focus on biking as transport and combining that with other forms of transport, but if I decide to write about food or fishing or anything else it's fair game.

So, that's it. I'm back.

I had a bit of any adventure on today's commute. I don't want to say too much about it, but here's a link that reports the "facts.",0,3689453.story